All Good Things Must Come To An End

Trip Start Sep 14, 2010
Trip End Nov 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, November 14, 2010

How quickly time flies. Here we are already, our last week in America. With varied expectations, we headed to Los Angeles.

The weather improved slightly as we left Monterey so we followed the scenic 17-Mile Drive linking Monterey and Carmel. We meandered down the crumbled coastline stopping at all the marked 'viewing spots', past beautiful houses and the trademark Lone Cypress and through exclusive Pebble Beach where we stopped at the resort for a look at the stunning view of the beautiful greens that appeared to fall in to the ocean. As much as we would have liked to stay at Pebble Beach for a few days, we continued on to Carmel-by-the-Sea for lunch. Carmel was beautiful and we really enjoyed wandering around the town looking in the windows of lovely little shops, observing the well-dressed cruising the streets in their convertibles and smiling at the numerous pampered pooches walking the streets. As we left Carmel, we stopped at San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission. The old mission is gorgeous and still operates today - even the school was in use.

We left Carmel via Highway 1, more famously known as The Big Sur. The 90-odd miles of coastline is beautiful and dramatic and at times the highway seems to clutch at the cliffs above the rough sea. Slow traffic unfortunately held us up a bit but it did allow for us to finally get some decent views of the Californian coast! It was too late in the day for us to stop at Hearst Castle (newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's fantasy-like estate) as tours took close to two-hours and often need advance booking. Instead, we carried on to San Luis Obispo where we stopped for the night.

The next day was to be our last driving day; driving through Santa Barbara and Malibu to reach our final destination - Los Angeles! They say life is sweet in Santa Barbara and its easy to see why! It is picture-perfect with bougainvillea draping white-washed buildings. We noticed a change once we entered California, the people were dressed better, food, coffee , and the shops were all better. This was particularly the case in Santa Barbara and Dawn and Courtney would have loved more time to peruse the shops and cafes along State St. Outside of Santa Barbara we saw a lot of market gardens and Mexicans picking fruit and vegetables.

Coming in to Los Angeles, we passed through Malibu. Dawn was hoping to spot Olivia Newton-John in Malibu but unfortunately we didnt get to see many of the houses as they are all in gated communities. However, Pete did get a short taste of what it would be like to live in Malibu. Needing fuel, we pulled up at a service station and before Pete could begin filling the car himself, a man said he would do it. It was only when Pete happened to look down at the pump that he saw it was $1 per gallon more than what we thought. Pete stopped the guy and asked what was going on. We were told that this particular side of the pump was full service, if we wanted the cheaper fuel we had to go to the other side of the pump and do it ourselves! It's hard to believe that people are that lazy that they would be happy to pay a dollar more per gallon just so they didnt have to get out of their car! Malibu has been synonymous with celebrities and stars but Courtney thought it looked a lot less posh than it was made out to be and decided she wouldn't like to live there.

With ideas of Los Angeles being all about smog, traffic and celebrity wannabes we hit LA with as opened minds as possible. Los Angeles is an interesting and bizarre place, a smorgasboard of life. From the ritzy areas of Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, to boho Venice Beach. Then there's Disneyland, a stylish and magical place.

Being so big, we were unsure of where to stay in LA. We had got (what turned out to be great) advice from a travel agent in Australia to stay at Santa Monica. Staying in Santa Monica allowed us to enjoy the relaxing yet fun atmosphere of the Santa Monica Pier and nearby Venice Beach and as we had a car, it was easy to get to places such as The Hollywood Sign, Sunset Strip and Mulholland Drive etc. We didnt go in to Downtown LA, instead spending our time in tourist areas. We did however drive across the city and were surprised at the lack of skyscrapers. The earthquake risk has certainly made a sprawling city rather than a high-rise one.

As we were staying in Santa Monica (actually on Santa Monica Blvd), we decided to spend our first morning exploring warm, sunny, Santa Monica, the Pier and Venice Beach. Third Street Promenade is action-packed with restaurants, good shopping and at night, crowds of people wander the mall to watch the street performers. The Santa Monica pier is the end point of the famous Route 66 and is fun with a quaint carousel, a solar-powered ferris wheel and a rollercoaster. As we had been on Route 66 a couple of times during our road trip, we thought it was fitting that we should end our holiday at the end point of the highway. It's difficult to explain Venice Beach. It's full of un-hinged homeless talking to themselves, bronzed and buff fitness fanatics, people promoting legal marijuana and asia-like shanty shops. It's a freak show, a human zoo and a wacky carnival, but Venice is truly an essential experience. Along the designated track between Santa Monica and Venice, you can get your hair braided, your palms read, get a massage or make a donation to the many beggars. Venice is crazy and weird and tacky, but vibrant and lots of fun for a look and to spend the morning.

Next, we took the car down Santa Monica Blvd, to Sunset Blvd to Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Just the mention of Beverly Hills conjures up images of fancy cars, beautiful mansions and rich celebrities. Driving around the suberb we saw it wasn't that far from the truth, although we didnt spot any celebrities. We hit Rodeo drive hoping to see some but still nothing. Courtney made a purchase on Rodeo Drive but with only the one bag, she was hardly Pretty Woman! It was Rememberance Day in Australia so we observed our one-minute silence with a cocktail on Rodeo Drive.

Dawn really wanted to go to Disneyland, and although Pete and Courtney didn't share the same excitement, we all headed off bright and early one morning, arriving at the park at 9.30am. By 10am, after catching a train from the carpark to the entrance, we were inside and mesmerised. Sure, it was frenzied, but the parallel world you enter as you walk through the main gates is enchanting. The park had just been finished being decorated for Xmas and the decorations and xmas carols that were being played were absolutely magnificent and beautiful. As Courtney saw Mary Poppins, the image of the character and the park overwhelmed her and embarassingly to say, made her a little teary! As the morning passed, the crowds continued and it was soon so packed it was hard to believe that this was off season. There were thousands of heavily packed prams and strollers (and not necessarily with kids!), and children dressed as their favourite Disney characters. Lines for rides were over an hour long but thankfully we had met a woman on the tour train who told us about the Fast Passes for rides. We enjoyed a few rides, particularly Splash Mountain. Dawn was a little nervous going on the ride and even though we all got more than saturated, it was fun to do. It probably wasn't the best idea doing it late in the afternoon as we spent the rest of the evening wet and uncomfortable. We couldn't get over how organised the place was and how clean. After the street parade, cleaners were out vacuuming the confetti before the crowds had even begun to disperse. Of course, we bought the Mickey ears and had a grand time exploring the themed areas, particularly New Orleans Town and Small World. We got a litte teary again during the boat ride in Small World! Late that night, we headed back to New Orleans Town by the lake to watch Fantasmic, a show on the water involving fountains and lights that delivers a fun show for kids and adults alike that involves all the Disney characters. For people that had only gone to Disneyland because they thought they should whilst in LA, we stayed 13.5 hours and loved every single of minute it and would recommend it to anyone going to California.

We decided to head back to Hollywood and check out that area more thoroughly. We walked along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, checking out some of the stars embedded in the footpath. Over 2000 celebrities have been honored along here and we watched a guy prepare a star for Christina Aguilera who would be in Hollywood the day after we left! We had a quick look at the Kodak Theatre where the Academy Awards are held before heading to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. When we were in Hollywood a few days earlier, it was night time and the Chinese Theatre was blocked off for a film premier. We were told it was a new movie Ben Affleck was directing though we didn't catch a glimpse of him. Sid Grauman was a friend of a lot of the early stars and invited them to place their footprints in cement that he then placed out the front of the theatre. This caught media attention and the honoured tradition has continued ever since with the likes of Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Natalie Wood and Hugh Jackman having signed their names in cement. Not all the stars have left hand and footprints. To name a few who didn't, Betty Grable left an imprint of her leg, Jimmy Durante left an imprint of his nose and Roy Rogers left the hoofprints of his horse Trigger. From here, we caught a tour of Celebrity Homes. We saw houses owned by Leonardio DiCaprio, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise and George Clooney. We also saw groups of paparazzi hanging outside the houses, some standing on the street, some sitting in their cars, but all waiting for a shot of someone!

When the tour was over, we headed to LA's most recogniseable landmark, the Hollywood Sign. The sign was built in 1923 as an advertising gimmick for a real-esate development. To get to the top of it you have to walk, so we went as far as we could legally in the car and got not only a great view and photos of the sign, but also of the city below. Leaving The Hollywood Sign we headed to Mulholland Drive, a two-lane road loosely following the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills. We were there on dusk and the view of the Los Angeles basin was amazing - quite a rare treat as it usualy covered in smog and haze.

Our last full day in LA before we flew out was spent organising our stuff and packing. We hadn't bought a lot but most of it was fiddly stuff to pack so it took some time to get it all sorted (and a couple of extra suitcases!). In the afternoon we headed to Third St Promenade in Santa Monica for one last look at the shops. Third Street Promenade is a pedestrian friendly mall similar to Burke St Mall with shops, restaurants and street performers. There is a mixture of shopping from local business to chain stores such as Nordstroms Department Store, H&M, Pottery Barn and Gap. We enjoyed the atmosphere of the promenade at night and saw some really good street performers.

The last day had to arrive sooner or later and whilst we were looking forward to be coming home (for a rest!) we were sad that our trip had come to an end. After a final pack and organise, we checked out of the hotel and went to the beach for one last look. This time, we decided to see Santa Monica and Venice Beach a little differently. By far the most enjoyable thing to do at Santa Monica beach is to rent a push bike and take the bike path from Santa Monica to Muscle Beach, taking in the Schwarzenegger wannabes and the speedo-clad rollerbladers, all whilst trying to avoid the guy on a skateboard being towed by his dog. This started off a little challenging for Dawn who hadn't been on a bike in a few years but she soon got the hang of it and was off racing ahead, weaving in and out of the other bikes and pedestrians. It was a warm, beautiful sunny morning and the perfect way to spend our last morning in California and America.

We left for the airport with plenty of time to spare in case we got stuck in the horrendous LA traffic but we had a dream run to the airport. We dropped off the hire car and before we knew it, we were at our terminal and checked in. Tipping a guy who helped with our bags turned out to be well worth it as he took us to an elevator and subsequetly past a long line of people waiting to go through security. We were surprised that there was no immingration at the airport. Apparently America only cares about who is coming in to the country, not who is leaving it! We had heard all the horror stories about LA airport; how big it is etc. The Air NZ terminal was tiny and we had 4 hours to wait in it. No shopping and barely any food. However, we did manage to spend the last of our coins on chocolate bars and souvenir spoons!

All good things must come to an end though and we are back in Australia. It doesn't take long to get back in to the daily routine and before long, our wonderful and fantastic holiday seems so long ago. Courtney is back at work, Pete is adjusting to retirement and Dawn is busy getting the house in order before Christmas. We are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bianca's baby in mid-December. Bianca has kept the first-time grandparents busy in Melbourne, helping her set up furniture etc.

For just over 2 months, we drove 8,900 miles (14,300 km), and ate our way through 29 states. We visited dazzling cities, stood next to towering redwoods, spent time in the rolling vineyards of the Napa Valley, saw chiseled peaks and barren desert and marvelled at the dramatic coastline. We followed the history trail of the Civil War one minute, then the next we were hanging out in the casinos of Vegas. One day we were eating fried chicken and ribs, the next we were eating all-organic. America is the country of diverse roadtrips - from the scenic country lanes of New England to the big skies of Montana. From National Parks to New York. We have done and seen so much and have had the most amazing trip. None of this would have been quite the same without the wonderful hospitality and friendliness shown by Americans across the country. We were made to feel special everywhere we went and we all came home with the intent to extend this same attitude to visitors to Australia in future. It really can make a positive contribution to one's travel experience.

The trip was not only a holiday to see America, it was an opportunity to spend some wonderful time with each other and the fantastic memories of the holiday will be something we will cherish for a long time to come.
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Denielle on

Thank you again for your wonderful ideas of your trip - am very envious....need to get Andrew to 'retire' and travel.........loved it. xxxo
Hope you are saving for your next trip....

Eunice Bailey, Renaud Pelletier on

I enjoyed reading your post and I missed all of you a lot. I'm so glad that we got to spend a little time with you. Can't wait to see you in 2012 in Sale.

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